On Friday’s General Hospital, Sonny Corinthos, played by the actor Maurice Benard, gave an eloquent description of his struggle to come to terms with bipolar disorder. I’m still furious with the former head writer, Ron Carlivati, for killing off Silas Clay, a plot twist that enraged thousands of fans and may well have played a part in Carlivati’s firing, but I have to commend him for addressing the topic of bipolar disorder in a major new story line.
Loyal viewers have known for years that Sonny, the moody mob boss of Port Charles, is bipolar. (So am I, by the way; I’ve blogged about it elsewhere.) I never watched General Hospital until my favorite soap star Michael Easton came on board after ABC cancelled One Life to Live. Now that they’ve murdered Michael’s character, I’ve been tempted to stop watching, but this new development may keep me hooked. In the few years I’ve been watching, there have been references to Sonny’s mental illness, and the fact that he generally keeps it under control by faithfully taking his meds. But I’ve never seen him markedly manic or depressed.
Maurice Benard, who’s been playing Sonny Corinthos since 1993, has been outspoken about his own bipolar disorder. He
was diagnosed at age 22 and has been on lithium nearly nonstop ever since. He’s spoken openly about his illness in interviews and on many talk shows, has worked with nonprofit organizations that focus on the disorder and won awards for his advocacy work. His heartfelt soliloquy about his bipolar disorder in today’s episode had the authenticity of real-life experience.
Sonny and his ex-wife/bride-to-be Carly were speaking to their son Morgan, trying to convince him to see a doctor for evaluation. For weeks they’d been expressing concern that he might be bipolar, especially since the disorder can run in families, but I couldn’t see it. Morgan’s been one of my least favorite characters, a dim bulb with such flat affect that he’s the last person I’d peg as bipolar. He and Bryan Craig, the actor who plays him, have a huge fan base, and I know they’ll hate me for saying this. But today Morgan was brimming with energy, grinning and telling them how great he feels, so clearly he’s at the start of a manic upswing. In the near future, maybe we’ll get to see if Bryan Craig can actually act. He must have something going for him, since he’s engaged to Kelly Thiebaut, a gifted actress who played an evil doctor and left the show of her own volition. She can always come back, though, since the writers didn’t kill her off; she merely left town—unlike Silas, who was shown lying dead on the floor with a knife in his back.
As Sonny and Carly point out, Morgan’s been acting erratically for months—poisoning his brother, screwing his girlfriend’s
mother Ava, then screwing her again when she’s pretending to be his aunt Denise—but that kind of behavior is run-of-the-mill for soaps, nothing that would suggest bona fide mental illness. Still, those kinds of off-the-wall escapades can be symptoms of bipolar disorder, so I’m guessing Sonny and Carly are right. And who am I to question their judgment? They’ve been married and divorced five times, and they’re about to put a ring on it for the sixth time. Perfectly normal, right?
Coincidentally, one of the main characters in my novel Hope Dawns Eternal is a temperamental mobster named Tony Giordano. But he’s not into marriage or preoccupied with multiple children and babies, and he’s not bipolar. A sociopath, perhaps, who’s obsessed with becoming a vampire, but nothing like Sonny Corinthos.
When I began writing Hope Dawns Eternal three years ago, I took care to create original characters with minimal resemblance to soap stars or actors who might have inspired them, however distantly. But so much has changed on General Hospital—in terms of both fictional characters and real-life behind-the-scenes drama—that I can now genuinely state that any resemblances are purely coincidental.
You believe that, right? Whether or not you do, I’ve got a wonderful book to sell you. And by the way, like Maurice Benard, I religiously take my meds. But that may not be enough to save me if my books don’t sell.
Attention GH fans: I’d love to hear your comments. What do you think of the current plot lines? Were you watching GH when Sonny had genuinely manic or depressed episodes? Do you think they should bring back Silas?